Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose is concerned that the "very new and untested" Liberal government is ill-prepared to deal with the economy and wants to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to offer help.
"I'm asking [Trudeau] to meet because I want to offer him my support to work with the government … to discuss what is the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in Canada," Ambrose said during a luncheon speech at the Canadian Club of Toronto on Monday.
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Ambrose conceded that her party has significant policy differences with the Liberals, but said she is willing to present a united front on some issues to save what she described as an economy hurtling toward a recession and a Canadian dollar that is in a "tailspin."
"We really need a plan on the economy," the Edmonton-area MP said. "A budget is still apparently months away. It could be the end of March and it's really important right now in our economy that we do have a plan, that we have some strong signals from the government," Ambrose said.
The Tory leader said the Liberal government should take a page from the playbook of former prime minister Stephen Harper who, during the 2008 financial crisis, released a federal budget early to put anxious Canadians at ease.
"We put our budget out [in January] — it was a very unique time. But we're back in a unique time … because the markets and Canadians needed that signal."
Trudeau said Monday the Canadian economy has "underperformed" over the past 10 years and "there were difficult times ahead" in an era of low commodity prices. But he said he won't take any lessons from the Conservatives on fiscal management.
"For 10 years we've had a government that has been focused on cutting its way into balance and not focused on the kind of growth that Canadians need," the prime minister said in St. Andrews, N.B., where ministers are meeting for a cabinet retreat.
Trudeau said he would be willing to meet with Ambrose to discuss the economy and other concerns she might have, but said the federal government's priority is "getting things done."
"Our finance minister is working very, very hard, along with our other colleagues, to ensure that the budget we put forward is the one that is going to create the kind of growth that Canadians expect and deserve," he said, adding the government is focused on getting money out the door fast to "activate the job market."
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi has already said he's not waiting for the budget to green-light government spending on projects across the country.
'Hip but not broke'
Ambrose also called on the Trudeau government to come clean on just how big its budget deficit will be, and to put a limit on the amount of money it will add to the federal debt.
"We want to be hip, but we don't want to be broke," Ambrose joked, referring to a New York Times article written over the weekend that heralded Canada as a "hip" country after the election of Trudeau last October.
"Now, I said that we will support the government when appropriate, and we will, because we all want good government … But I have to tell you, in the first few weeks the Liberals have made it really difficult for us and we're already seeing some troubling signs.
"The policies they espouse are clearly bad for the economic prosperity of our country," Ambrose said, pointing to Liberal promises on employment-insurance reform, proposals to raise CPP contribution rates and efforts to settle on a national price on carbon emissions.
Mulcair: Budget process 'unseemly'
The Liberals have not yet announced when a budget will be released, but Finance Minister Bill Morneau has been travelling the country for the past two weeks doing pre-budget consultations.
"I am very proud of the pre-budget consultations we've put forward already, a record number, close to 80,000 Canadians, have engaged in the budgetary-consultation process," Trudeau said.
"We continue to listen to Canadians, listen to concerned parliamentarians with solutions and concerns."
But NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the government wasn't doing enough. The third-party leader called on the government to release a budget "sooner rather than later" and demanded a voice for opposition MPs in the process.
"Mr. Harper, despite the fact that he didn't respect a lot of our parliamentary traditions … always held all-party pre-budget consultations. Justin Trudeau is so far refusing," Mulcair said. "It's unseemly for someone who has talked a good game with regard to transparency and openness and respect for our parliamentary traditions.
"Actions speak louder than words — so we'd like to see those [hearings] take place."
But the government argues that such criticism is disingenuous. The House finance committee has yet to be struck — its formation has been held up by members of the opposition — and will operate on an abridged timeline for pre-budget consultations, due in part to the federal election.